Pentagon budget cuts have to be on the table

PENTAGON BUDGET CUTS HAVE TO BE ON THE TABLE…. I continue to believe in a simple litmus test — if you claim to believe in fiscal responsibility and want to cut the deficit, you can’t insist that the Pentagon budget is untouchable. It’s an immediate credibility killer, reflecting a fundamental lack of seriousness about the subject.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that the Republican Party line on this remains ambiguous, and “whether major cuts to military spending will be on the table remains unresolved.”

The GOP’s Pledge to America platform calls for fiscal austerity but makes notable exceptions for the military. Marco Rubio, the party’s Senate nominee in Florida, for instance, generally supports efforts to trim federal spending but opposes specific measures to roll back defense budgets. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who commands a following among tea-party groups, has said publicly that defense shouldn’t be touched.

Those on the right resisting any reductions in military spending are actually pretty plentiful — and powerful. Arthur Brooks, Ed Feulner, and Bill Kristol recently made the case that slashing spending would be a good idea, just as soon as policymakers agree to put a fence around the Pentagon budget so it’s protected. The American Enterprise Institute, the Foreign Policy Initiative, and the Heritage Foundation recently issued a report making the same case.

It’s important to emphasize, though, that the right isn’t united on this one. A lot of Tea Partiers have endorsed Pentagon cuts, and we’ve heard some encouraging rhetoric in recent weeks from Illinois’ Mark Kirk (R), Georgia’s Johnny Isakson (R), and Kentucky’s Rand Paul (R). Even Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, conceded recently, “The Pentagon’s budget itself is not working right, so there are billions of dollars of waste you can get out of the Pentagon, lots of procurement waste. We’re buying some weapons systems I would argue you don’t need anymore.”

What’s more, a Sustainable Defense Task Force, led by Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas), but featuring 55 other lawmakers from both parties, recently sent a letter to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, recommending sensible, responsible cuts to the Pentagon budget.

This shouldn’t even be controversial. Defense spending will top $700 billion in the next fiscal year. For so many Republicans to insist that we cut spending, but deliberately ignore the largest discretionary portion of the budget, is absurd.

The United States now spends about as much on defense as every other country on the planet combined. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said, publicly and repeatedly, that the United States can’t keep spending such vast amounts of money on the military indefinitely. It’s simply unsustainable.

It’s the first hurdle that has to be cleared for the rest of the fiscal discussion to even get underway. Those who claim credibility on the subject, but believe a bloated Pentagon budget is untouchable, shouldn’t even be part of the conversation.